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At Videopolis Tonight

29 April 2010 Stories and Appreciations 8,413 views 2 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

It was May 1986, and my friends and I were looking for a new place to dance. None of us were yet 21, and the 18-and-over dance clubs of Orange County, CA. — Nightscape, Jagg and Old World, to name but a few – were abandoning us. Some of the clubs had physically shut down (Jagg had turned into a strip club called “Captain Cream’s Tussling Tootsies”), while others had begun drawing gang members, or they simply didn’t interest us any longer.

It was this unforeseeable set of circumstances that drove us to Videopolis, the underage dance venue that operated at Disneyland during the mid 1980s-early 1990s. We had never expected to end up there, for reasons I’ll detail shortly. But once we got a feel for the dance floor at Videopolis, we kept coming back to it for nearly two years – ultimately spending more nights there than we had at Jagg, Nightscape and Old World combined. We came for the music, but we stayed for the explosions.

None of this would have even happened if Disneyland hadn’t experienced some unforeseen circumstances of its own. In late 1984, the theme park’s main club dance venue — an open-air theater at the base of Space Mountain – was closed to make way for “Captain EO.” Also around that time, park administrators reversed themselves and began allowing same-sex couples to dance with each other. (There’s nothing like a court ruling to get a corporation to do the right thing.) Stuck without a dance venue at the precise historic moment when millions of American teenagers were discovering the joys of dancing largely with themselves, Disney purchased the stage rig from Steve Wozniak’s US Festival, placed it in Fantasyland adjacent to “it’s a small world,” festooned it with lights and televisions, and opened Videopolis in June 1985. According to Randy Bright’s book “Disneyland: Inside Story,” the whole process took just 105 days, from hasty napkin sketch to neon-accented reality.

I’d like to say I was there on opening night, but I wasn’t. There was nothing in the print or radio advertising for Videopolis that made me want to abandon the 18-and-over dance clubs. With their black walls, booming sound systems and doorless toilets, those clubs were practically theme parks in themselves. There, teenagers could make out with each other under blacklight, smoke red-box Marlboros, sit around looking petulant and, time permitting, dance to Dead Or Alive, Prince and Bauhaus. Plus, Videopolis had a radio jingle, which was more than enough to make the place seem uncool. It played as a kind of overture when the venue opened for the evening, and it was just plain awful:

Tonight’s the night, gonna do it right/Gonna use my very best moves, show what I can do/Dance till I drop, ’cause the music’s so hot/Goin to the top, Videopolis/Gonna make it rock Videopolis, Videopolis

I know what you’re thinking, and I’ve already checked: Bryan Adams didn’t write it.

My friends and I avoided Videopolis like a mouse-borne plague until that May1986 evening when we said, ah, what the hell. We capped a day at Disneyland with a night at Videopolis — and there we stayed. Virtually every summer weekend, we’d go to Disneyland and Videopolis, sometimes bypassing the former in favor of the latter.

We had our reasons for loving it. It was certainly impressive to look at, with its 5,000-square-foot dance floor, 70-plus video screens, several rows of teal-colored bleachers, and enough multi-colored stage lighting to incinerate a herd of cattle. Videopolis’ tech guys – Disney called them “Veejays” — would mix the music videos with live footage of dancers in the crowd that was video-toaster’d nearly beyond recognition. There were massive video screens above the stage showing the action, and sometimes you were allowed to dance on the stage itself. LED strips hung on the lighting rigs, and if your eyes ran over one of them quickly enough you’d see the afterimage of a dancing figure.

The club’s soundtrack, a mix of alternative favorites (New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle,” Eurythmics’ “Missionary Man,” Martini Ranch’s “How Can The Laboring Man Find Time for Self-Culture?”) and pop R&B (Nu Shooz’ “I Can’t Wait,” Expose’s “Point of No Return,” Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach”), was suitably loud and epic. And there’s something to be said for a club whose chill-out room was “Pirates of the Caribbean.” All of these things drew us to Videopolis … but it was the fireworks that kept us there.

At that time, Disneyland’s nightly fireworks show was launched from a backstage area where Toontown now stands. Most people watched the show from a remove. (“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls … please direct your attention to the sky.”) The fireworks were launched directly over Videopolis, so close you could feel the ground tremble as they blew, and get the powder smell in your clothes.

Disney played it up. At 9:35 every night, the Veejays would dim the lights and drop the needle on the “Carnage” mix of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Two Tribes.” The track would kick in and a cheer would rise from the dance floor, diminishing to an awed sigh as the first of the shells exploded overhead. We kept dancing even as a colorful, sci-fi war raged in the heavens, reaching for us with its spider-like tendrils.

Other Orange County clubs gave us minor skirmishes, turf wars. Videopolis gave us the end of the world. It had a nice beat and you could dance to it.

There were other things worth remembering about Videopolis, but none as extraordinary as the fireworks. The crowd was big-haired boys and bigger-haired girls, dancing awkward hip-hop steps to Janet Jackson’s “Nasty.” The scenery was okay, but oftentimes we’d get bored with the glibness of the crowd and we’d pine for the old club crowd we once knew — geeky, black-clad and willing to be felt up in a dark corner.

On a somewhat related note, we once spotted staunch conservative radio host Wally George in the crowd. He smiled at us, which was kind of disappointing. We had hoped he would at least pull a mild sneer and denounce us for a bunch of polymorphous perverts and chain-smokers who had no place in a fantasy kingdom. Then, all of a sudden, it hit us – we weren’t anything of the kind. We weren’t any different from any of the other kids who had abandoned dark, dingy teen clubs to dance at Videopolis. As the company does so well, Disney learned the price of getting us out of those clubs and into Disneyland, and they named it.

The venue still stands today, but is now called “The Fantasyland Theater” and it’s been roofed over with a two-posted tent that even the most pious of Disney geeks calls “The Wonderbra.” Disneyland no longer has any teen dance programming to speak of, unless you count the cover bands playing the Tomorrowland Terrace stage.

I guess that’s okay. The kids dancing to those cover bands seem to be having a good time. But they don’t know what it’s like to dance to the sound of fireworks, and they never will. That was purely a Videopolis thing.

Geoff Carter

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2 Comments »

  1. Oh Videopolis, how I miss it! From ’85-’91, Disneyland was my “home” and I, like so many other locals, were devastated when Videopolis was closed and we found ourselves migrating to Tomorrowland Terrace to hear Discovery or Voyager rather than leave the park all together. What a shame and end to a great era.

  2. Hi Geoff,
    I really appreciate your accurate memories of Videopolis. I bought about 4 years worth of Disneyland Annual Passes just so I could hang out at Videopolis! I was also devastated when they got rid of it.
    Steve Fortune

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